Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

OpenROV Raises Funding to Open Up the World of Underwater Exploration

This summer, underwater robots swam with melon-headed whales in Palmyra and dove into cenotes in the Yucatan. You can see it for yourself; the robot operators recorded their dives and shared their videos here and here.

They’d each built their own remote-operated underwater vehicle with kits from OpenROV, which is trying to make underwater exploration and research accessible by open sourcing its design and selling kits for $849.

Some 250 of the first OpenROV model have been sold. Next, OpenROV users plan to search for sunken meteorites in glaciers and old mahogany in Canada.

And next for OpenROV, the company, it has raised $1.3 million led by True Ventures, in order for the team of three to further refine and distribute its design and start a video community on its own site.

OpenROV has a lot in common with 3D Robotics, the drone company led by former Wired editor Chris Anderson. They are both closely associated with the Maker movement, they’re neighbors in Berkeley, Calif., and they’re both now backed by True Ventures.

But the difference may be, when non-military people use a flying drone with a camera, they’re probably trying to get a different angle on something they already know is there.

The world of oceans and lakes and underwater caves is much more inaccessible. “It’s not that you can’t go there, it’s that the barrier to entry is really hard,” said OpenROV co-founder David Lang.

Giving examples of OpenROV users having dreamt up the projects above, and sent in clips from places like the Mediterranean, Nova Scotia and Tulum, Lang said, “It’s almost like the long tail of curiosity. Kickstarter did this in the long tail of creativity — now it’s not just big studios making movies.”

The new version of OpenROV, seen here, will be released next week.

He added, “Everyone still thinks exploration is what research institutions or National Geographic gets to do, and that’s just not the world we live in anymore.”

With tinkerers, and even kids, making their own underwater robots and dreaming up places to send them, and other people watching their videos, “We think that the future of exploration looks a lot more like Wikipedia than the Apollo missions,” Lang said.

While $1.3 million is not a ton of funding for a technology startup, it was a leap for OpenROV — which had taken starring roles at places like the Maker Faire and had a highly successful Kickstarter campaign — to turn into a venture-backed company.

“We started off dreaming,” said Lang’s co-founder Eric Stackpole. “This started off like a lifestyle company. But it quickly became apparent to us that the personal satisfaction was good, but we really want to affect the world. We can’t just be making a few little plastic robots and sending them out to tinkerers; we want exploration tools to be ubiquitous.”

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